Hard Time

April 16th, 2019

“I’m going to prison!”

The girl was sobbing as she told us this over the phone yesterday. She had just finished her conference with the probation officer liaison. It appears that the young woman had run out of second chances, and the judge had run out of patience.

She wailed, “It’s not fair!”

Some people might laugh at that claim. After all, this woman had violated the provisions of her probation repeatedly. According to the law, she should go to prison. She knew the rules and she broke them. A person could easily say that she chose to do the wrong thing. It was her own decisions that got her into this mess.

That all makes sense if a person assumes that this girl is capable of making rational decisions. What if she’s not?

The girl has a long history of mental illness and addiction. This implies that, at least at times, she is not able to make good choices. All these screw ups are not due to any moral failure. She wants to do the right thing. She wants to be happy and productive. But then she sabotages all her good efforts by using.

So, in a sense, she is right. It is not fair that she go to prison. She probably should not be on her own, but prison is unlikely to help her, or help anyone else. At this moment, this young woman can’t function all alone. That much is obvious, even to her. She needs some supervision, but is prison any kind of answer?

In America we use jails and prisons to control people who are sick. I suppose that other countries do that too, but it seems that here we punish people who are mentally ill, rather than trying to heal them. We take people who are desperate and wounded, and we incarcerate them. Out of sight, out of mind. Not all criminals are mentally ill, but many persons who are mentally ill are treated as criminals. We don’t have money to cure people, but we always have money to imprison them.

This girl might well be dead if she wasn’t in jail right now. The sad truth is that jail is a safe place for her, for now. Will prison be a safe place? I don’t know, and I have no influence on future events. Will she get any kind of medical treatment in prison? Probably not. Prison is simply a warehouse for unwanted souls. It’s just a purgatory here on earth.

This girl, along with many others, is in a dark and scary place. It’s a place that doesn’t need to exist. It’s a place that we, as a society, have created and maintain.

It is wrong.





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